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Hanover Asks Residents to Secure Potential Food Sources as Mama Bear Returns With New Cubs

  • Andrew Timmins, the bear project leader with the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, steps over a tranquilized black bear in Hanover, N.H., on April 13, 2018. Nancy Comeau with USDA wildlife services keeps a hand on the bear after the bear had been moved onto her side. Behind them is bear expert Ben Kilham, of Lyme, N.H., and Will Staats, a regional wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game. The bear was tranquilized so she could be fitted with a radio collar and an ear tag. She has four cubs. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Will Staats, left, regional wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game, and Andrew Timmins, bear project leader with the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, prepare to tranquilize a black bear in Hanover, N.H., on April 13, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • While its mother is tranquilized, one of four cubs is high in a tree in Hanover, N.H., on April 13, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Andrew Timmins, bear project leader with the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game, fits a tranquilized black bear with a radio collar in Hanover, N.H., on April 13, 2018. Working with him is Nancy Comeau with USDA wildlife services. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2018

Hanover — New Hampshire Fish and Game officials on Friday put a tracking collar on a black bear sow in an effort to trace her movements as she seeks food for herself and a new litter of cubs near downtown Hanover.

Andrew Timmins, the bear project leader with the Department of Fish and Game, said the teenage bear has four cubs who are roughly 3 months old.

The collar will track the sow’s daily movements, and in addition to providing input to her location, it will allow officials to see where in Hanover she is finding human food attractants, such as bird seed and unsecured garbage.

“This will allow her to try and remain on this landscape for another month or two with minimal conflict,” Timmins said. “We will go to those locations and we will try and haze her out of those places and make her uncomfortable there, but more importantly, we will go to those places and try to explain to people the need to be proactive and not allow those bear attractants.”

The roughly 200-pound sow has lived in the Mink Brook corridor for about 15 years, said Ben Kilham, a bear expert from Lyme. The sow and three yearlings from an earlier litter garnered statewide attention last spring after they became habituated to food from human sources, including unsecured trash and bird feeders.

Two of the yearlings broke into a home on Thompson Terrace in search of food, and bear officials concluded that they needed to be put down.

But after Gov. Chris Sununu intervened following a public outcry, the young bears instead were released in northern New Hampshire last May.

One of them later was shot and killed by a hunter in southern Quebec. The fate of the other two isn’t known. The sow was never relocated.

State officials hope the efforts to track the sow — and publicity about the new litter of cubs — will encourage Hanover residents, landlords and Dartmouth College students to be more vigilant about securing potential food sources for the bears.

Bear experts said tracking the sow is the most feasible option at this time. They can’t yet relocate the family to northern New Hampshire because there still is decent snow cover and there are minimal food sources there.

“It really would be inhumane to move the bear at this time,” Timmins said.

The likely plan would be to move the whole family in a couple of months.

However, Hanover could very much find itself in a similar situation in three to five years when a new bear takes over the current sow’s territory, if and when she is relocated. If residents don’t put away attractants, that bear will take on the same behavior and history will repeat itself, Timmins said. There also is a chance that the current sow could travel back to Hanover, even after a long move.

Although many people have complied with officials’ orders and secured bird feeders, garbage and other attractants, others haven’t, Timmins said. He is sure of it because the sow’s scat is filled with bird seed.

As of right now, the cubs are living solely on their mother’s milk, but that will change over the summer.

“My real hope is we can train the people,” Kilham said.

Tracking Device

To attach the tracking device, Timmins, Kilham, Will Staats, a regional wildlife biologist with New Hampshire Fish and Game, Hanover Deputy Fire Chief Michael Hinsley, and Nancy Comeau, a nuisance black bear specialist at USDA Wildlife Services, staged in a driveway on Friday near where the sow had recently been seen in a neighborhood near Mink Brook.

Hinsley had been keeping an eye on the bear on his lunch breaks for the past couple of weeks after learning about the sow’s movement from Hanover residents. On March 24, he started setting up game cameras to monitor her.

Before entering the woods, Timmins and Staats mixed together the proper dosage of an injectable anesthetic, which then was inserted into a tranquilizer gun.

Around 10:45 a.m., Timmins, Staats and Hinsley made contact with the sow, which was sitting at the base of a tree near her den while her four cubs, which weigh about 5 to 7 pounds, were perched in the tree.

After being struck by the dart, the bear became immobilized after about 15 minutes, and the officials made their way to her side. They promptly put a jacket over her eyes to limit distractions; she still had her eyes open and could slowly move her head.

While Timmins fastened the large orange collar around the sow’s neck, which measured 59 centimeters, Comeau gently lifted the bear’s neck and placed part of the jacket under her head as a pillow.

The whole process, which included tagging her ear, lasted about 20 minutes. Officials then rolled her onto her side beneath the tree, and left her.

The cubs stayed in the tree throughout the process and didn’t make a sound; likely when everyone cleared the woods, they came down to her side, Timmins said. The drug was expected to wear off in one to two hours.

The collar, which has a small box attached to it, will send 24 GPS location signals to Kilham and Timmins a day. They will plot those location points, giving them a roadmap of where the sow has traveled.

“We will know exactly where she is going to get her food,” Kilham said. “How she is using the land.”

Over the next few weeks, she likely won’t travel too far from her den because she still is nursing her cubs. But she may make short trips for food.

Sununu is said to be on board with Fish and Game’s plan.

“Gov. Sununu is pleased that Fish and Game now looks at these on a case-by-case basis, which allows them to consider the safety of our citizens first and foremost, while also treating the situations as humanely as possible,” Sununu said through spokesman Benjamin Vihstadt.

Making Headway

Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin said the town and Fish and Game officials have remained in close communication on the topic.

In addition, the town already has taken steps to get the word out to all of Hanover, including those in the neighborhoods near where the sow resides.

Using Code Red, a telephone alerting system operated through Hanover Dispatch, the town sent out an alert on Monday briefing residents of the ongoing situation and how they can help.

The notice urged residents to bring their bird feeders indoors and to not put them out again until late spring.

“Your cooperation is critical as this sow loves sunflower seeds,” the alert states. Timmins examined the sow’s scat on Friday, and it was filled with sunflower seeds.

In addition to bird feeders, nearby households shouldn’t put trash and recycling out the night before pickup and barbecue grills must be stored in the garage when not in use.

If any households fail to comply, the owners will be cited by Fish and Game officials, the Hanover alert said.

So far, compliance in the Mink Brook area is good. But people must stay on top of things, Hinsley said. For example, if a resident puts a bird feeder in the garage, he or she must keep the garage door closed to prevent the sow from helping herself.

“It’s that vigilance that people need to be more aware of,” he said on Friday.

The town of Hanover had talked about putting an ordinance in place to be able to sanction residents who don’t comply, but officials decided not to enact it “because we do not have the staff required to effectively enforce one,” Griffin said in an email on Friday.

In its place, she said, the town has provided a wealth of information to residents, including a town-wide mailing. Code Red only reaches homes with landlines, so the town is working with Dartmouth College to get an alert out to all students, Griffin said.

In addition to bringing in attractants, people exercising in the Mink Brook corridor should try to avoid encounters with the bears, and dogs should be walked on leashes, the Hanover alert said.

“We all need to let her care for her young cubs quietly through the month of April and ask you to be respectful of her presence while you walk in this area,” the alert said. “Please help us help this sow to remain safely with her cubs near her den until Fish and Game can safely and successfully relocate this bear family.”

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-562-5984.